Writing Dialogue for Video Games

Writing good dialogue for video games is an essential skill for game developers to master, as it helps to bring the game's characters and story to life, and makes the game more immersive for players.

Writing dialogue is an important aspect of creating a video game, as it helps to create a sense of immersion and believability for the player. It involves creating the setting, characters, and lore for the game, and can be a complex and time-consuming process. Here are some tips for writing dialogue in video games.

Dialogue is for the Player

Even though it’s tempting to write tons of dialogue, keep in mind who the writing is for and how it should be taken in. When writing dialogue, it's important to remember that the player interacts with the game and reads the dialogue. Try to write a conversation that is engaging and interesting for the player, and that helps to draw them into the story.

No matter how incredible your dialogue may be, it will always take a backseat to the gaming experience. It is meant to flesh out and contextualize your world, but it’s not the main purpose of the game. In all honesty, most players will not focus too much on the dialogue. But a well-written script will definitely keep people interested in moving forward in your game.

Character is King, but Keep It Concise

Before you start writing dialogue, it's important to have a clear understanding of your characters and their personalities, motivations, and relationships with each other. This will help you to write dialogue that feels authentic and natural for each character.

In video games, players often have to read a lot of dialogue while also interacting with the game world. You may be tempted to fill time and conversation with as much information as you can, but remember that the point is to color your gameplay, and not to write a novel. To keep players engaged, it's important to keep your dialogue concise and to the point.

Avoid Cliches

To avoid making your dialogue feel stale and unoriginal, try to avoid using cliches or overly familiar phrases. Instead, try to come up with unique ways for your characters to express themselves. Explore the quirks of your own game and setting and lean into what makes it special. Take note of your character’s motivations, and what they hold in high regard.

Leave Room for Mystery

Sometimes the way a character says (or doesn’t say) something can reveal much more than a typical conversation. Think about a fetch quest where the character asks for something but doesn’t fully explain why they want or need it. Leaving room for mystery or doubt can be an invitation to a much larger questline for the player to follow.

Use Subtext

“Subtext” is a literary term that refers to the underlying meaning or message in a conversation or piece of writing. It is what is not said explicitly, but rather hinted at or implied through the words, actions, or tone of the speaker. Subtext can add depth and complexity to a conversation or scene and can help to reveal character motivations or conflicts without spelling them out directly.

Instead of having characters spell everything out for the player, use subtext to convey meaning and emotions through the dialogue. This can help to make the dialogue feel more natural and realistic, as people often say one thing but mean something else.

For example, in a conversation between two characters, one might say "I'm fine" in a flat, unemotional tone, while the other character might respond with a concerned "Are you sure?" The subtext in this exchange might be that the first character is not fine and is trying to hide their true feelings, while the second character is trying to express concern and support.

In video games, you have the ability to use body language and facial expressions to add depth and emotion to your characters' dialogue. Use these elements to help convey the characters' emotions and to make the dialogue feel more believable. A character nervously tapping their fingers or facing away from the player, can both indicate that the character isn’t being truthful or forthcoming about a specific statement.

Vary the Tone and Style

To keep the dialogue interesting and engaging, try to vary the tone and style of the dialogue depending on the situation and the character speaking. For example, a character might speak more formally in a formal setting, or use more casual language when speaking with friends.

Overall, writing good dialogue for video games requires a combination of understanding your characters, keeping the dialogue concise and to the point, using subtext to convey meaning and emotions, varying the tone and style of the dialogue, avoiding cliches, paying attention to pacing, using body language and facial expressions, and writing for the player.

By following these tips, you can create more immersive dialogue that helps to bring your game's characters and story to life.

Edit and revise

As with any writing, it's important to edit and revise your dialogue to make sure it's as effective as possible. It may be a bit nerve-wracking, but consider having a friend or peer take a look at your dialogue. Having an extra set of eyes reviewing your work can improve the natural and believable aspects of your writing.

Q&A

Writing dialogue for video games is a skill that can be used in many different situations, far beyond games. Some common questions for dialogue in games and writing in general include:

How do I write dialogue for video games?

Start with figuring out your character’s personalities, and how they would talk to each other. Think about their goals and how they view other characters in your game. From there, you can start writing conversations and then edit/polish those conversations until you’re happy with the way they sound.

Is dialogue the same as the plot?

Although dialogue in games may include certain parts of the plot, it is not the same as the plot. Things like dialogue, visual elements, sounds, and even game mechanics can all be included in the plot and how it is revealed to the player.

How do I improve my dialogue?

Take inspiration from movies and how characters talk to each other. Remember that you’re not writing a novel; the dialogue is for the player, how they learn who the characters are, and how this affects the gameplay.

What is subtext?

“Subtext” refers to the underlying meaning or message in a conversation that may not be outwardly spoken. Things like body language and intentional usage of specific words (e.g. “bloodthirsty” instead of “dedicated”) all contribute to subtext in a conversation.

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Profile image Matt Bauer commented
I'm looking forward to making a podcast about this article!!